Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, was jailed on Friday after a federal judge decided that his messages to former colleagues represented an attempt to tamper with witnesses in the special counsel investigation.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Manafort’s behavior showed he was “a harm to the administration of justice and the integrity of the court system.”
“You have abused the trust placed in you,” she told Manafort, adding that sending him to jail until his trial was “an extraordinarily difficult decision.”
After the ruling, one of Manafort’s lawyers jumped to his feet and asked to delay the imprisonment while they appealed, but Jackson refused.
As Manafort was taken into custody, he turned back and caught the eye of his wife in the packed courtroom, raising his hand and giving her a firm smile.
The decision to revoke his bail was a severe blow to Manafort, who spent years at the highest levels of Republican politics before making millions serving as a consultant for some of the world’s least-savory dictators. He reentered the spotlight by helming Trump’s campaign during the contentious Republican National Convention two years ago, only to be forced out amid controversy over his previous work on behalf of Ukraine’s pro-Russia government.
Manafort has been under house arrest since October, when he was first indicted for financial crimes unrelated to the campaign, including tax evasion and bank fraud. Unless he beats the charges he’s facing in two separate trials this year, the 69-year-old could remain behind bars for the rest of his life.
Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of California, said Manafort is now facing “maximum pressure” to cut a deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who has been investigating Russian interference with the presidential election.
Because the charges against Manafort have been so well documented, Litman said, his risk of losing at trial is high, and if convicted, “absent cooperation, he will never get out of prison.”
“So that means this is the first day of the rest of his life,” he said. “The first crappy meal. The first regimented schedule. The first of a series of indignities.”
Shortly before Friday’s hearing began, Trump continued trying to distance himself from his former campaign chief.
“Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Manafort, in fact, was part of the campaign for several months and played a leading role in securing support for Trump from party delegates.
After the judge’s ruling, however, the president came to Manafort’s defense, calling the decision “very unfair!”
“Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns,” the president tweeted. “Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob.”
Trump’s lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was more explicit — directly raising the possibility of a presidential pardon in an interview with the New York Daily News.
“When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” said Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney in Manhattan. “You put a guy in jail if he’s trying to kill witnesses, not just talking to witnesses.”
Prosecutors first revealed the witness tampering allegations against Manafort earlier this month. In a court filing, they said Manafort and his business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik, reached out to two public relations professionals to provide them with false information about the Ukrainian lobbying.
In encrypted messages, Manafort and Kilimnik told them that the advocacy only took place in Europe, prosecutors said. The location matters because Manafort has been charged with violating a federal law that requires agents of a foreign government to register if they do work within the United States.
“We should talk,” Manafort wrote in one of the messages, according to a court filing from prosecutors. “I have made clear that they worked in Europe,” a reference to former European politicians who were part of the lobbying arrangement.
The recipient of the messages provided their content to prosecutors because he was concerned that he was being asked by Manafort to provide false testimony, the court filing said.
The outreach began after Richard Gates, another former Manafort business partner and Trump campaign aide, pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy and lying to federal agents. Gates is cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation.
Manafort and Kilimnik, who prosecutors accuse of having ties to Russian intelligence, were indicted last week on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Manafort pleaded not guilty to the new charges on Friday, and he’s denied all previous charges as well.
Manafort’s lawyers told Jackson on Friday that even if the contacts were improper, which they denied, she could limit the problem with steps short of jail, such as a no-contact order barring Manafort from contacting potential witnesses.
“This isn’t middle school, I can’t take his cellphone,” she said, adding that she doubted she could draft an order comprehensive enough to ensure against any possible violations.
It was not immediately clear how long Manafort might be in custody.
The first of the two trials he faces is scheduled to begin in federal court in Virginia on July 25. Even if he is acquitted there, he could remain in jail until his second trial, in Jackson’s courtroom, in September.
Prosecutors have not accused Manafort of conspiring with Russians to influence the campaign, although that’s something the special counsel’s office was explicitly authorized to investigate.
However, he took part in a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, which has been carefully scrutinized by Mueller’s investigators. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, arranged the meeting after being told the lawyer had incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, who by then had secured the Democratic nomination for president. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and now a senior advisor in the White House, also participated.
When the meeting was first revealed last year, Donald Trump Jr. falsely told reporters that the meeting was about Russian adoptions. That inaccurate statement was drafted with the president’s help.
Donald Trump Jr. later admitted he had been promised damaging details on Clinton, but he said none was provided.
Fawcett is a special correspondent. The New York Daily News contributed to this report.